Revolving Loan Fund as Model…and Dedication for the Riehl Family who saved my father’s life and raised him up…from Erwin A. Thompson

My father, with typical generosity, is setting up a revolving loan fund at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois. When I was growing up this was a girl’s school called “Monticello” and underneath its current layer there will always be this other layer for me…what I term the archeology of memory and emotion. Things remain alive within me through the years, through all the shifting facts.

My mother and father together, with typical generosity, set up a similar revolving loan fund at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois, my mother’s Alma Mater, and my nephew David now looks after it. Though the fund was dedicated to her parents, Court and Grace Johnston, I feel the fund is a living tribute to my mother, who so loved education.

The revolving loan fund model is under-used in the United States. In developing countries the revolving loan fund model has been used to good effect for supporting entrepreneurs in villages and completely changing the face of commerce and opportunity there.

The revolving loan fund concept is simple: a pot of money is invested and out of this pot loans are made, and then re-paid. In this way, the pot is not diminished, as it would be if the funds were permanently disbursed in grants or gifts.

I like the spiritual principle of the revolving loan fund…there is the giving…and then the giving back. There is the sense of a common good, not only the individual benefit.

Here is the beautiful dedication my father wrote for this fund…dedicated to the Riehl family who raised him…and from whom I took my name when life turned a corner for me in my early 20s.–JGR

Erwin A. Thompson, author of Thompson Western Series and Folk Treasure
Erwin A. Thompson, author of Thompson Western Series and Folk Treasure


A hundred years ago the Riehl name stood for honesty, neighborliness, hospitality, the urge to make things better for his family, his friends, his community, and horticultural excellence. E. A. Riehl was a leader. He was a man that other men looked to for leadership, and followed.

His accomplishments have been forgotten through the years. The people who remembered him have nearly all of them passed on to what we hope is a better land. There is not a Riehl in Jersey County. His name on the road leading back to our farm is still used, but few realize the reason for the name.

In addition to the biological debt which all of us owe to our ancestors, I have another debt to the Riehl family.

When I was nine months old, I was expected to die. I had double pneumonia and was the same size that I had been at birth. I could not turn over by myself. Doctor Munson told my father: “That boy is going to die, anyhow. Why don’t you send him down to your wife’s sisters, and then your wife will have a better chance.” (She was also in poor health).

The suggestion was agreed upon by all parties and the move accomplished.

The Riehl family on the Home Place at that time was my Grandfather, Emil A. Riehl, and his three daughters Julia, Emma, and Mim who had given up the opportunity of marriage to stay at home and help with the care of their invalid mother. Mathilda Riehl had died in 1910.

They decided that I didn’t need to die. Aunt Mim had just returned from a trip to the west coast. It had been designed as a pleasure trip, but while there she had undergone a serious intestinal operation and suffered what she found out thirty years later had been tuberculosis.

Since Mim was on the recovery list, also, and not able to perform the never ending work of the farm, she became my chief care taker. My first memory is of her singing Percy Wenrich’s “Rainbow” to me as a lullaby. She said “We learned to walk together.”

E. A. Riehl was strictly a No nonsense Man. And yet. He would always take time to repair my broken toys. He took me on walks. We have a wonderful picture of the two of us walking up the road together. My biggest regret is that I could not have known him better. [E. A. Riehl died when my father was 10 years old.–JGR] To partially make up for this I have read and transcribed his day book accounts of his early years of struggling to carve a working farm out of the property as he had acquired it.

You should read my story: “My memories of the Riehl’s”. In spite of their lack of formal education, they were quality people. They wrote fine letters, used good grammar, and in spite of the hardships of their life they maintained a wonderful sense of humor.

I am sure that they would appreciate the purpose of the fund. I dedicate it to Grandpa E. A., Aunt Judie, Aunt Em, and Aunt Mim who thought I didn’t need to die, and worked diligently to make certain that I did not.

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